Author: John Vogan

News Assistant at KING 5 Television in Seattle

Final vote pending for Collegetown rezoning amid community concerns

The proposed Collegetown rezoning is on to the City of Ithaca Common Council for a final vote after unanimously passing the Planning and Economic Development Committee.

The measure – a drawn out and still contentious plan for some – seeks to rezone Ithaca’s most dense neighborhood using form districts that will regulate features such as roof pitch, glazing, porches, and size of plain exteriors.

The plan calls for a total of six districts: two Mixed Use (MU) districts, which includes both residential and commercial spaces, and four Collegetown Residential (CR) districts. Much of the concern lies with the transitional CR-4 district with the closest proximity to the MU districts.

Draft: Collegetown Area Form Districts

Under the rezoning proposal, Collegetown will have six newly formed districts: two for a mix of commercial and residential uses in the center, and four surrounding residential districts.

Tom Hanna, one of Collegetown’s long-time residents, has voiced concern over the potential for consolidation by big developers under the law.

“We specified to the city [a concern for consolidation] in the CR-4 zones,” said Hanna, a ’64 graduate of Cornell University and Collegetown homeowner since 1970. Hanna also serves as a member of the East Hill Civic Association.

“If you look at the way we’ve written this law…this is clearly going to end up encouraging individual property owners like myself and others to consider selling out to major developers, rather than try to go through and develop the property ourselves.”

Hanna cites the low vacancy rate as a factor that keeps rent prices higher and worries the new policy will further increase the cost of living with a “gentrification” effect. The Cornell Daily Sun published his editorial on the issue in its Guest Room column last week.

“Everybody wants to be in Collegetown,” said Galal Cancer, a Junior Applied Economics and Management student at Cornell. He agrees that the city should make it a priority to keep Collegetown within the range of students’ budgets.”

“While the plan does not specifically address the goal of affordability, it does clearly address the goal of supplying quality, safe housing,” said Seph Murtaugh, the Chairman of the Planning and Economic Development Committee.

Parking at a Premium

The rezoning measure also eliminates parking requirements for the multi-use districts and, if parking-management plans are approved, the CR-4 district.

Factoring in space for parking can be costly for developers and, according to Murtaugh, is not as necessary with increasing use of alternative transportation.

“The parking requirements can really inhibit growth and density,” he said. “I think we feel comfortable eliminating it in the center of Collegetown.”

Murtaugh also pointed to other available parking nearby, including the Dryden Avenue garage that has been operating on average at only 50 percent capacity. A citywide Parking Director was recently hired to address policies as well.

Seven Years In the Making

In 2007 the City and Cornell University commissioned Good Clancy Associates of Boston, Mass. and two sub-consultant firms for a total of $180,000 to evaluate Collegetown and make recommendations for future development. After some additional modification by the Planning Committee, “The 2009 Collegetown Urban Plan & Conceptual Design Guidelines” was published.

In 2011, owners of affected property halted the plan’s implementation after challenging the parking exemption.

“There have definitely been criticisms of the plan,” Murtaugh said. “I think that the city staff will continue to monitor it…if we find that the plan requires tweaking in some way, if we have to change it to respond to local realities, I think the Planning staff and Common Council will make those changes as necessary.”


As Valentine’s Day blood donations fall short, FDA ban still thorny for gays

It was more white than red that dominated Valentine’s Day this year as severe winter weather blanketed much of the U.S. with traffic-snarling snow and ice. Along with floral delivery trucks that struggled to make their rounds with red roses, the American Red Cross felt the storm’s impact too: more than 750 blood drives were cancelled, leaving at least 25,000 blood and platelet donations uncollected.

The setback is the latest in a string of blood supply shortages in recent years – with the summer of 2012 seeing the lowest level in more than a decade – further prompting LGBT advocates to ask why would-be male donors who have had gay sex are banned from donating.

Last summer, the organization Second Class Citizens hosted a “National Gay Blood Drive” event in major cities across the U.S. to draw attention to the issue.  Another drive is scheduled for July 11.

The Food and Drug Administration’s lifetime ban first went into effect in 1977 after an HIV/AIDS pandemic was first linked to gay communities. The FDA has stated that the ban would be eased “only if supported by scientific data showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients.”

According to the Red Cross website, every unit of donated blood is tested for infectious disease markers, including HIV. With the current exclusion of gay males, it estimates 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate, although less than 10 percent actually do each year.

The American Medical Association voted in opposition of the ban policy in June. One of its members, William Kobler, said it was “discriminatory and not based on sound science.”

In September, at least 80 members of Congress wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services denouncing the ban as outdated and unfair to gay men who practice safe sex.

What do you think? Should the ban remain in place? Reply with your comments below; find contact information for your Congressional representatives here.

Social media: the new frontier of journalism

With the exponentially accelerating advancement of technology nowadays, journalism is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic and exciting professions to be working in. Journalists have always depended on sources and tips for stories. But an unprecedented amount of new information and potential sources have become accessible with the emergence of social media.

One of the developments Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, validates is the need for what some may call “backpack journalists”. The surge of citizen journalism emerging through social media has challenged the professional journalism industry to “transcend the desktop,” as Gilmor puts it, and actually take advantage of every feature our devices have to offer. It’s not necessarily that every person employed by a news organization has to be a trained videographer, but instead simply needs to have an eye for anything they come across in everyday life that may resemble news. Whether it’s in the form of video, audio, or photographs, mobile phones and tablets afford individuals the chance to capture the spontaneous and the unfrequented.

Gillmor also touches on how linking can add depth to stories. Not only does sourcing add authority to a piece by revealing where information was obtained, but also works in the best interest of the reader by directing them to material that provides greater context (e.g. transcripts or data) and perhaps even encouraging them to dig deeper on their own.

If this were a one way street, I might end this post by saying, “Now go grab your phone, get out there and find some news” and leave it at that. But, of course, social media has also fostered a robust dialogue between journalist and audience to offer feedback and new ideas. So, help me out here readers. What are some prime examples you’ve seen of social media’s impact on journalism? What are your thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of this? Comment with your opinion, reflect on your experiences, maybe even share a link or two!

Tech Etiquette: the Dos and Don’ts of Online Reporting

Journalists on Twitter can reap major benefits from the service, but should also beware of pitfalls. (Photo Credit: AP)

Journalists on Twitter can reap major benefits from the service, but should also beware of pitfalls. (Photo Credit: AP)

The online world of social media is something of a mine field. With an ever-shrinking sense of privacy and ever-growing need for connecting via the World Wide Web, knowing what benefits or hinders an online reputation can make or break your personal brand.

Alexandra Chang — a former technology writer for Wired magazine in San Francisco and current freelancer in Ithaca, New York — recently shared her online wisdom with journalism students of Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications. Here are some of her recommendations for behaviors to actively engage in, as well as those that should best be avoided:

  1. Be personal in professional areas. Content reflects how you want to be perceived.
  2. Create lists of reporters within your beat and try to engage with them in a thoughtful way.
  3. If you’re searching for sources on LinkedIn, opt for the anonymous setting. Users can see who views their profile.
  4. Use Twitter in a genuine way, even though it’s not the most genuine platform.
  5. The Internet is often a less than ideal place for civility. If you get heatedly attacked on Twitter or anywhere else, the best policy is to simply ignore.
  6. Create a brand for yourself through tone and how you present content. Social media is not just there for people to follow you professionally, but also to get to know you.
  7. Have a presence on Vine and other similar platforms, but remain conscious of the fact that they are still used more primarily for comedy than news at the moment.

Some other interesting tools that were revealed include (a website that allows you to find new people that follow several accounts related to your beat or interests), (a site that tracks who unfollows you on Twitter), and Paper (the latest iPhone app from Facebook that offers users a “newsier” newsfeed).

Protests during past Olympics may offer insight to Sochi’s LGBT strain

Credit: AP - In this Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014 file photo a Russian gay rights activist walks along a police line during a rally at a Moscow boulevard. When the Sochi Winter Olympics begin on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, many will be watching to see whether Russia will enforce its law banning gay “propaganda” among minors if athletes, fans or activists wave rainbow flags or speak out in protest. The message so far has been confusing. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko, file)

Credit: AP – In this Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014 file photo a Russian gay rights activist walks along a police line during a rally at a Moscow boulevard. When the Sochi Winter Olympics begin on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, many will be watching to see whether Russia will enforce its law banning gay “propaganda” among minors if athletes, fans or activists wave rainbow flags or speak out in protest. The message so far has been confusing. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Yesterday marked the official start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and already four gay activists have been arrested after unfurling a banner quoting the Olympic Charter’s ban on discrimination. Earlier this week, the Human Rights Campaign sent an email urging supporters to petition NBC to “devote significant primetime Olympics coverage to the LGBT crisis in Russia.”

The network will air more than 1,500 hours of coverage over the course of the Games, and while the anti-LGBT propaganda law has been getting a lot of attention in the weeks leading up to them, will the official U.S. coverage hone in on the tension? Protests are by no means unprecedented for the Olympic Games. Here’s a look at previous coverage of controversies surrounding the Games in recent years:

2008 Beijing Summer Olympics: Months before the Games even began, when the Olympic torch arrived April 9 in San Francisco, networks aired considerable coverage of protests pointing to human rights abuses by the Chinese government. The organization Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting ( noted that CNN gave related coverage 40,000+ words that day alone.

2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics: With the United States’ neighbor, Canada, as the host country this time around, U.S. media coverage of protestors was comparatively marginal. Only nine articles appeared in the New York TimesWashington Post, and USA Today between the two weeks prior to the Opening Ceremony and the day after the Closing Ceremony. Canadian press, on the other hand, published more than eight times the number of U.S. articles, covering everything from sustainability to the presence of poverty in the shadow of millions spent on Olympics construction and security.

2012 London Summer Olympics: These Games, as with Vancouver 2010, also shared a close cultural proximity with the United States. Unlike the previous Summer Olympics in Beijing, the controversy-based coverage was relatively mild. Pre-Games coverage once again emerged, with articles like this one from the GlobalPost touting five activist groups that were likely to be ‘heard from’.

That brings us to Sochi, which, like Beijing, resides in a country that has proved politically problematic for the U.S. in the past with its Communist undertow. The world will soon see how the new LGBT narrative will play out in mainstream media; but if its anything resembling previously documented protest coverage, viewers and readers may witness the three-stage phenomenon laid out for the last Winter Olympics by writers Jules Boykoff and Casey Nishimura: 1) pre-Olympic stories that allow space for dissent (which has been confirmed with the plethora of LGBT segments), 2) articles appearing once the Olympics begin where media slip into the well-worn ruts of activist denunciation (i.e. traditional narratives of protesters as ‘trouble-makers’), and 3)  articles appearing toward the end of the Games that praise the police and champion the Olympics as a success. This is by no means a be-all and end-all formula, but perhaps may be used as a tool to evaluate coverage of this year’s Olympics, and subsequently validated or contradicted.

Meanwhile, a designated protest area has been set up in a village approximately seven miles from the main Olympic Park in Sochi.

More updates on protest coverage and a follow-up analysis of the Games will be posted to this blog in the upcoming weeks.

Sideshow performer sets up solo act in food truck industry

By John Vogan & Alexandra Leslie

Previously published on Premiere, Ithaca’s Art and Entertainment Publication. 

On the chilly morning of Dec. 3, steam pours from the open hatch of the Circus Truck as J.P. Vico prepares breakfast burritos for two of his regular customers. Vico’s is just one of eight food trucks in Ithaca currently dishing up mouthwatering cuisine from their mobile kitchens.

Click here to see what's cooking in Ithaca!

Click here to see what’s cooking in Ithaca!

Crepe Photo Courtesy Mark Anbinder

As the name suggests, the truck is a symbol of not only his passion for cooking, but also sideshow performing, Vico said. When it gets dark enough, he projects old black and white films showcasing circus performances for customers to enjoy while they chow down on alla vodka pasta — a ‘velvety homemade tomato cream sauce accented with vodka’ — or a seitan (gluten wheat) reuben sandwich.

Vico is left with a bad taste in his mouth, however, due to the city’s lack of a mobile vending permit policy hindering his operation. He and other truck owners have been left to negotiate with private property owners for places to set up shop. When a new building development forced him out of his original location on the corner of Seneca Street and State Route 13, he moved to the parking lot outside the Finger Lakes Beverage Center on West Green Street.

“The only reason this truck has even survived here a couple months is because the people who already knew about it from before [keep coming back],” Vico said.

Though Vico sits alone in the West Green Street parking lot, others are also caught in the food truck dilemma.

Amanda Beem-Miller, co-owner of The Good Truck, offering a Mexican-inspired menu that features seasonal and local ingredients, is one of the founding members of the Ithaca Food Truck Association, which began a year ago on Dec. 15.

“My business partner and I had spent years cooking for other people, and we really wanted to do our own thing,” she said. “This was the most economically viable way to have our own business.”

Without a permit in place, mobile vendors are barred from operating on city streets and property, with the exception of a special permitting process for The Commons.

In the meantime, The Good Truck owners, along with other food truck proprietors, worked with the city to create a pilot program that allows for vendors to operate at specific times on public property. This led to the weekly Food Truck Round Up at Thompson Park on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.

“There’s a philosophy in business, especially in food, that the more choices there are, the more people we can get to come,” Beem-Miller said.

Mark Anbinder, a food writer and editor of 14850 Dining, agreed. He said he understands the brick and mortar restaurants’ concerns of increased competition, but thinks there is a benefit to be gained by boosting an area’s attractiveness with more variety.

“It’s also true, maybe especially in Ithaca’s neighborhoods, that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ When there are attractive eateries in an area, people get used to going there for food, so for example I don’t see the Circus Truck taking away from Maxie’s and On the Street, even though they’re in the same area. I see it as one more option that makes people think of heading to the West End for food,” Anbinder said.

A vote on the pending permit proposal is planned for the Board of Public Works meeting on Dec. 9.

Hanging art: How artists get featured in Ithaca

Alice Combs “Fierce Shapes” in Waffle Frolic in Ithaca, New York.

Alice Combs “Fierce Shapes” in Waffle Frolic in Ithaca, New York.

By John Vogan & Alexandra Leslie

Previously published on Premiere, Ithaca’s Art and Entertainment Publication. 

Allison DeDominick sits down with her newly adopted black kitten, Giacomo Puccini, as Italian opera plays softly in the background. Her living room hosts an array of artwork from around the world; Italy, France and the United States. Her personal work is in the process of getting framed. After traveling to Italy, DeDominick returned to Ithaca to help other artists, like herself, blossom in a city already known for its natural beauty.

DeDominick owns her own business, ARTe, that works with non-traditional venues like cafes, restaurants, wineries and public spaces to curate art exhibits on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

When DeDominick saw local artist Alice Combs’s work at Gimme! Coffee in October 2012, she contacted her right away.

“She’s somebody who maybe doesn’t see themselves as an artist first, but I think she should,” DeDominick said.

Combs never originally saw herself pursuing a career in art. She graduated from Cornell University in 2008 with a degree in Biology.

“I was always interested in art, I just never took it seriously,” Combs said.

The Community Arts Partnership in Ithaca is an outlet for local artists like Combs. CAP provides different services, assistance and grant opportunities to artists or art organizations, in addition to public programs supporting art in Tompkins County.

Since 1992, CAP has helped to distribute more than $2.7 million in grants and fellowships to artists, arts organizations and community projects. In 2013, CAP awarded $226,128 in arts grants. Their artist registry features 121 local and regional artists to date.

“Sometimes the artist walking through our door has years of experience but is new to town. Other times the artist is fresh out of school and exploring ways to spread his/her wings artistically,” said John Spence, Executive Director of the Community Arts Partnership. “Robin Schwartz, [CAP Program Director] can help make connections and introductions to like-minded artists.”

CAP hosts the Ithaca Art trail two weekends in October, in which local artists opened their studios to visitors and buyers. The organization also hosts two artist markets. The Ithaca Artists Market was held this summer at the Ithaca Farmers Market, and the Winter Fine Art Market takes place December 14 at the Holiday Inn on South Cayuga Street.

Additionally, the Awesome Indie Art Market took place in Downtown Ithaca December 6-8, which showcased more than 40 different artists.

“In a nutshell, we tried to bridge the gap of artists that you do not always get a chance to see and combine it with music, food and other art ideas; just a space and a chance to be creative,” said Alice Muhlback, one of the Awesome Indie Art Market’s coordinators.

Combs now attends the San Francisco Art Institute pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Painting. Combs made the decision to actively pursue art after taking two painting courses. DeDominick was instrumental in getting her series, “Fierce Shapes,” featured in Waffle Frolic until the end of the December. The piece is inspired by the way letters can occupy negative and positive spaces, made with black and red acrylic ink at a 45 degree angle.

While she was always interested in art from a young age, living in Ithaca made for making art an interest into a career, Combs noted.

“There are a lot of opportunities for showing your work in shops or galleries. It’s a pretty vibrant community for such a small town,” Combs said.

Ithaca Rolfer aids pain with practice

By John Vogan & Allie Healy


When Sarah Robarge was 15 years old, a horse ride changed her life. That fateful day, her horse became startled and reared up, throwing her from the saddle and onto the ground before the animal fell on top of her.

The accident resulted in two back fractures in and a hip injury. On and off for the next 15 years, Robarge had to wear a back brace and tried everything from medication to surgery to massage therapy, but still suffered debilitating pain.

That is, until, she discovered Rolfing, a unique kind of massage therapy aimed at realigning the body to minimize pain and tension. Ida Rolf, a biochemist, created Rolfing in the 1930s. After completing a series of Rolfing therapy with Wells Christie in Syracuse, Robarge’s pain was gone.

Robarge completed a Ten-Series, which typically spreads one-hour sessions once a week over 10 weeks, but could be extended to progress once a month over 10 months. The first three sessions are known as superficial sessions, working the superficial layers of the fascia, also known as connective tissue.

“It just changed my life so much that it inspired me to do that, so I could help people the way that I was helped,” Robarge said.

According to the Affordable Care Act section 2706 titled “Non-Discrimination in Healthcare,” insurance issuers “shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider’s license or certification under applicable State law.” Because Robarge’s practice is licensed, Rolfing would be covered by insurance, dependent on the individuals insurance provider.

Robarge now practices as a certified Rolfer, but getting to this point was not easy. New York state requires Rolfers to be licensed as massage therapists first, and the only Rolf Institute currently in the United States operates their instruction in Colorado.

Robarge spent the first semester studying in Colorado, and then travelled to other parts of the world where the practice is more widely practiced. She lived in Malaysia for the second semester, and studied for the third semester in Bali and Indonesia.

Rolfing is more thorough than traditional massage therapy and based on discovering the source of tension-related problems, Robarge said.

“To give an example, say you have sore shoulders. If you went and saw a massage therapist, you’d go in and you’d get a shoulder rub,” she said. “Most people’s sore shoulders are caused by tension in the front of the body. If you have tension either in your chest or abdominals or your legs, you are going to be pulled forward in your gravity. It’s pulling on your back.”

Unlike the temporary relief and relaxing chemicals released in a typical massage, Rolfing aims to realign the body to help the pain dissipate all together.

Susan Winter, the Manager of Marketing at the Rolf Institute, said the practice used to be more intensive and painful. The founder, Ida Rolf, initially would patients lay on the floor instead of a table.

“We’ve learned over the years about the nervous system, you don’t need intensity, but intentionality,” said Winter, a patient of Rolfing herself. If either the patient or the Rolfer senses too much pain, attention can be placed on shallower layers of connective tissue.

Robarge’s practice, located at 409 W State Street, will have been established a year in January.